Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Archive for August, 2010

Make Success Visible

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

saturate your mind with hopeI won’t go into details, but last week my coworkers and I were in need of a little cheering up so I turned to Edith Mae Cummings’ Pots and Pans and Millions: A Study in Woman’s Right to Be in Business; her Proclivities and Capacity for Success (whew!) and found the following. It was published by the National School of Business Science for Women right here in Washington, D.C., and I do believe it has helped pull me out of my slump. If it can work for me, it can work for anyone, as long as you have hope! All righty, then!

1929: Make Success Visible

Many women form the chronic habit of indulging in fits of depressing that we call the ‘blues.’ They allow the ‘blues’ an easy entrance to their minds, in fact are always at home to them and are susceptible to every form of discouragement that comes along. Every little setback, every little difficulty, sends them into the ‘blues’ and they will say ‘what’s the use?’ As a result their work is poor and ineffective, and they do not accomplish the things they desire.

Every time you give way to discouragement, every time you are blue, you are going backward, your destructive thoughts are tearing down what you have been trying to build. One fit of discouragement ~ visualizing failure or poverty ~ will rapidly destroy the result of much triumphant thought building. Your creative forces will harmonize with your thoughts, your emotions and moods; they will create in sympathy with them.

Saturate your mind with hope, the expectation of better things, with the belief that your dreams are coming true. Be convinced that you are going to win out; let your mind rest with success thoughts. Don’t let the enemies of your success and happiness dominate in your mind or they will bring to you the condition they represent.

I know of nothing that gives more satisfaction than the consciousness that we have formed the habit of winning, the habit of victory, the habit of carrying a victorious mental attitude, of walking, acting, talking, looking like a winner. That sort of attitude always keeps the dominant, helpful qualities to the fore ~ always in the ascendancy.

One of the most obstinate of habits in life, and one fatal to efficiency, is the habit of feeling defeated.

Source: Cummings, Edith Mae. Pots and Pans and Millions. Washington, D.C.: National School of Business Science for Women, 1929.
~ pp. 277-78 ~

Things I Must Do To-day

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

reflect universal kindness[Note to Readers: This was obviously written just after 9/11…] No joking around this week, dear friends. As the helicopters pass over my Washington, D.C., home just blocks from the Capitol, I think endlessly of the friends and family and strangers touched by the horrible tragedy that was September 11. I struggled tonight to find an appropriate quote and still don’t know if this is the right one, but it’s a start. This simple selection is from Arthur Gould and E. E. and M. A. Dodson’s book titled How to Obtain Your Desires.

1923: Things I Must Do To-day

I must guard from danger through affection.

I must be strong and energetic.

Whatever I do to-day must be vital.

I must reflect universal kindness.

I must concentrate my energy, and direct it into the right channels.

I must keep my mental windows open to the sky.

I must receive nothing but good from all the world, that I may give back nothing but good to all the world.

Source: Gould, Arthur and E. E. and M. A. Dodson. How to Obtain Your Desires: Positive Thoughts Attract Success. Chicago: Advanced Thought Publishing, 1923.
~ p. 47 ~

How to Distinguish Death

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

in case there is great doubtThis week’s selection is from Professor T. W. Shannon’s Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity or, Eugenics. You never know ~ this might come in handy someday.

1916: How to Distinguish Death

As many instances occur of parties being buried alive, they being to all appearances dead, the great importance of knowing how to distinguish real from imaginary death need not be explained. The appearances which mostly accompany death, are an entire stoppage of breathing, of the heart’s action; the eyelids are partly closed, the eyes glassy, and the pupils usually dilated; the jaws are clenched, the fingers partially contracted, and the lips and nostrils more or less covered with frothy mucus, with increasing pallor and coldness of surface, and the muscles soon become rigid and the limbs fixed in their position. But as these same conditions may also exist in certain other cases of suspended animation, great care should be observed, whenever there is the least doubt concerning it, to prevent the unnecessary crowding of the room in which the corpse is, or of parties crowding around the body; nor should the body be allowed to remain lying on the back without the tongue being so secured as to prevent the glottis or orifice of the windpipe being closed by it; nor should the face be closely covered; nor rough usage of any kind be allowed. In case there is great doubt, the body should not be allowed to be inclosed in the coffin, and under no circumstances should burial be allowed until there are unmistakable signs of decomposition.

Source: Shannon, T. W. Nature’s Secrets Revealed: Scientific Knowledge of The Laws of Sex Life and Heredity, or Eugenics. Marietta, Ohio: S. A. Mullikin Co., 1916.
~ pp. 503-504 ~

Building a New Disposition

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

lead pure livesThis one seems appropriate to start out the new year. It’s from Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection, which was written in 1904 by Mary Ries Melendy. I wonder if folks one hundred years ago resolved to do this or that around December 31st?

1904: Building a New Disposition

I. Never look on the dark side of anything. If it has no bright side, don’t look at it at all. Look at something else.

II. Never speak or even think ill of another. Don’t “jump at conclusions” by judging unfavorably even if circumstances are suspicious.

III. Never take any desired favor for granted. If you follow this rule you should never need fear being cheated or disappointed.

IV. Try to find something good in every person you meet.

V. Read good books, think good thoughts, lead pure lives, observing the laws of health.

These habits once formed become literal brain-paths along which it grows easier and easier for the thoughts to travel, bringing gladness, health and symmetry to every nerve and tissue. In countless cases such results have been achieved.

Source: Melendy, Dr. Mary Ries. Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection. Chicago: W. R. Vansant, 1904.
~ p. 83 ~

Brothers and Sisters

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

little folks admire youMy older brother Chris celebrates a birthday this week. Most of the advice I found about brothers and sisters was about sibling rivalry, which we don’t have at all (except that my website is so much better than his, don’t you think?) but I did track down this little blurb about trying getting along with younger and older siblings. It’s from Florence Reiff’s book Step in Home Living. Coincidentally, this was a few years after Chris was born, and a year before he kicked the mail carrier, for some odd reason, the day I was brought home from the hospital. Happy Birthday, Chris!

1966: Brothers and Sisters

Getting along with younger brothers and sisters is sometimes a problem for teenagers. Have you ever thought about why this is so? When a three-year-old opens a drawer and takes something that belongs to you, or when he writes in your notebook, he does not do it to be mean. He does it because he admires you and wants to be grown-up, too! When an eight-year-old follows you wherever you go, he does so because he wants to be included in your activities. Younger children want attention and like to feel that they are a part of the family. They look up to the ones who are older; that is why the way you act toward them is important. When you understand this, it is easier for you to be patient with them. You will enjoy them much more.

Now, look at another problem that might arise in the family. How do you get along with your older brothers and sisters? Do you ever borrow a sweater without asking? Do you want to stay up as late as your older brother? Do you get angry if you are not allowed to go out as often as he does? If you answer ‘Yes’ to the last three questions, you can see that you want the same privileges as older family members because you think it is better to be a grown-up. In a way, you are acting almost the same way as your younger brothers and sisters!

How do we solve problems like this? We have talked about the importance of understanding. When you understand that little folks admire you and want your attention, you might plan to do some special thing with them each day. It might be that you could spare a few minutes to play a game, tell a story, or just talk about what the child has been doing. In the case of older brothers and sisters, you also need to practice understanding by realizing that as you grow older you will gain more privileges. You will also lose the fun of not having so much responsibility! You can help the problem by cooperating with older family members rather than annoying them.

Learning to get along with the people in your family helps you to get along with the other people in your life. Getting along with others helps to make you happy.

Source: Reiff, Florence M. Steps in Home Living. Peoria, Ill.: Chas. A. Bennett Co., 1966.
~ pp. 36-38 ~

Hints To Those Who Would Have Fun with Magic

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

work up some interesting patterWow! The Fun Encyclopedia certainly does cover it all: “Fun with Icebreakers,” “Fun with Mental Games,” “Fun Outdoors,” “Fun with Music,” and “Fun with Puppets,” just to name a few. There is so much fun here that I didn’t know where to begin, but then I stumbled across the introduction to the chapter titled “Fun with Magic,” written by E. L. Crump. But beware ~ it was written in 1940, so you might want to do a little research on the addresses before mailing in your subscription checks for those magazines.

1940: Hints To Those Who Would Have Fun with Magic

The secret of success in magic is, of course, keeping the spectators from knowing how the trick is done. In order to do this the performer must practice each trick thoroughly many times before a mirror in order to perfect his technique. He must also learn how to evade the questions of his friends as to how the tricks are done. For just as soon as he tells one friend the news will spread until everyone knows the secret of the trick and immediately it will cease to be fun for the crowd. Several rules might be set down for the magician to follow strictly:

(1) Practice before a mirror each trick until it becomes natural and easy.

(2) Never repeat a trick.

(3) Never tell the audience what you intend to do.

(4) Never tell how you did a trick.

(5) Practice misdirection with your eyes. Your eyes should always look where you want the audience to look regardless of what your hands are doing.

(6) When something goes wrong, laugh and turn it into a joke, and the audience will laugh with you instead of at you.

(7) Work up some interesting patter to go with your tricks as it not only helps in the misdirection but adds to the interest of the effect.

If you wish to keep up with current magic it would be well to subscribe to some of the magic magazines of note. Four of the best are as follows:

Genii, 705 South Hudson, Pasadena California.
The Sphinx, Sphinx Publishing Corporation, 130 West 42nd Street, New York.
The Tops, Abbott’s Magic Novelty Company, Colon, Michigan.
The Dragon, Vernon, East Lux, Mount Morris, Illinois.

It is impossible to cover much of the field of magic in a work of this nature. The reader, if interested, should secure some of the many fine books on magic which are available today. The following are suggested:

200 Tricks You Can Do and 200 More Tricks You Can Do, by Howard Thurman.
How’s Tricks, by Gerald Lynton Kaufman.
Greater Magic, by John Northern Hilliard.
Modern Magic, by Professor Hoffman.
Magicians Tricks, How They Are Done, by Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate.
Houdini’s Magic, by Walter B. Gibson.

Source: Harbin, E. O. The Fun Encyclopedia. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1940.
~ pp. 875-76 ~

Popular Games for Children

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

I've lost my squirrelQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What did children do for fun in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Were there some games that were popular? My daughter’s class is studying the lives of immigrant children in the years 1880 to 1920. I suspect we can’t find much because there isn’t too much on the subject. Life was pretty hard for children then? Any help is appreciated.


A Dear Cathy:

Coincidentally, I’ve just recently purchased Ethel Acker’s Four Hundred Games for School, Home and Playground. It was published in 1923, which is a bit outside your required dates, but many of the games are based on old ones, so says the preface. The four hundred games cover a variety of styles: counting out and choosing sides, circle games, dramatic games, singing games, mimetic games, tag games, hide and chase games, schoolroom games, special purpose games, bean bag games, ball games, athletic games, quiet games, and forfeits and stunts. I’ve picked just a few amusing ones to whet your appetite.

1923: Four Hundred Games

Have You Seen My Sheep?

The players stand in a single circle. A player in the center goes to a player in the circle and asks, ‘Have you seen my sheep?’ The one questioned asks in reply ‘How is it dressed?’ The center player then describes the clothing of some one in the ring; for example, ‘He wears a blue suit, a dotted tie, and has light hair.’ The one described runs as soon as he recognizes his description. The one questioned chases him, and if he catches the runner before he again reaches his place in the circle, the runner becomes the next questioner. If, however, the runner is safe the chaser becomes the questioner.

I’ve Lost My Squirrel

The children stand in a single circle, playing that they are squirrels. One child is outside looking for his squirrel which he has lost. He walks around, repeating as he goes, ‘I’ve lost my squirrel, I’ve lost my squirrel.’ Then he stops just behind some child and touches him on the shoulder, saying, ‘I’ve found my squirrel.’ At this the two run in opposite directions around the circle. The one who gets back to the open space first is safe. The other one is ‘it’ for the next game.


The children stand beside each other in one line. They join hands in back. Directly in front and facing them stands the one who is ‘it.’ The line advances while ‘it’ at the same time walks backward. The child at one end of the line calls ‘Pinch!’ and pinches the hand of the child next him. The pinch is passed along the line to the last child who calls ‘O!’ when pinched. As soon as the others hear the ‘O’ they turn and run back to a predetermined goal, and ‘it’ gives chase. Those who are caught by the one who is ‘it’ help to catch the others in the next game, or the first one caught may exchange places with the one who is ‘it.’ The children must be careful not to show by their faces where the ‘pinch’ is. For variation of the game any child may call ‘O!’ when he is pinched.

Snow Man

This game affords an opportunity for legitimate snowball throwing. Any number of children may play. Two goals some distance apart are chosen. The two opposite boundaries of the playground may furnish these goals. One child is chosen to be the snow man. With a good supply of snowballs, he stations himself at a point halfway between the goals. All the other children are stationed at one of the goals. Then the snow man calls out, ‘Who’s afraid of a snow man?’ If the children hesitate at all about running, he calls out again, ‘Oh, you’re afraid of the snow man! You’re afraid!’ At that all must run to the opposite goal and the snow man proceeds to hit as many as he can before they reach goal. Any who are hit must take a place beside the snow man and make balls. Those reaching goal safely without being hit, wait there until again addressed by the snow man; then they run again to the opposite goal, and again the snow man snowballs them. The last child to be hit between goals becomes the snow man for the next game. No one hit on goal is counted out, but no one may stay on goal after the snow man calls the last sentence. As will readily be seen, this game requires a wide as well as a rather long running space.

Source: Acker, Ethel F. 400 Games for School, Home and Playground. Dansville, N.Y.: F. A. Owen Publishing Company, 1923.
~ pp. 24 -26, 100, 118 ~

Be a Good Worker Bee

Monday, August 30th, 2010

surrounded by cheerful peopleQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I am starting a new job soon. How can I make a good impression during my first few days?


A Dear Jane:

Although the author of the following excerpt suggests that companies often give employees “a break” early on, she stresses the importance of manners and punctuality at all times. This is by Elizabeth Gregg MacGibbon, from her 1941 book titled Fitting Yourself for Business.

1941: Keep the Corners of Your Mouth Up

Remember the old saying, ‘Honey catches more flies than vinegar’? It goes without saying that an agreeable person is more apt to make good than is the grouch, the fuss-budget, or the ‘sourpuss.’ If employers had their way they would always be surrounded by cheerful people. No doubt you have heard of the secretary who in her efficiency fairly scolds her boss as though he were her erring child. Privileged employees, because of long years of service of inestimable value to their employees, may be permitted such idiosyncrasies; but, as a beginner, no such privileges are in store for you. Young people who are not cheerful are too easy to replace.

Source: MacGibbon, Elizabeth Gregg. Fitting Yourself for Business. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1941.
~ p. 263 ~

The Summer Job Conundrum

Monday, August 30th, 2010

get the pleasure out of a thingQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have recently been offered a summer job at an amusement park running a ride. I was really psyched to take it, so I could enjoy my summer in the sun. But just today my Dad told me that they are hiring summer help where he works. The problem is that I already agreed to take the ride job, which would be fun and easy and I’d get to spend time with friends. It only pays $5.50, though, and the job where dad works will pay at least double that. I really want to take the fun job, but should I sacrifice a fun summer and take the tough job to really clear a lot of bones, or what? If I take the fun job, how do I tell my dad that I’m not interested in the job he’s offering?


A Dear Andrew:

Ah, the age-old dilemma of taking a boring summer job versus a fun amusement park one. I feel your pain, and wish you luck as you figure out a way to tell your father you won’t be taking his job. How could you? I see no choice, particularly after reading this excerpt from Dorothy Dix’s How to Win and Hold a Husband. I know, I know, based on the book title it doesn’t sound like it would be relevant, but trust me. Enjoy your freedom and happiness now, for you’ve got plenty of time to be miserable in your later years, no doubt while working at a dreary desk job.

Hey, I have an idea ~ perhaps a free season pass to the park would help convince dear old dad that you’ve made the right decision?

1939: Enjoy What You Have Now

Most people miss all pleasure in what they have because their whole attention is focused on wanting something they haven’t got, and so they lose even the happiness they could have. Don’t make this mistake. If you have health exult in it. Realize you have something to give three cheers for every minute of the day. If you have youth rejoice in it. Those who are young really don’t need anything else. They are on their tiptoes already. If you have a wife or a husband whom you love, and if you have little children, be down on your knees thanking heaven for its best gifts.

It is pitiful to see strong young people throwing away the happiness they might just as well have because they are longing for automobiles or fine clothes or freedom from work or something equally silly that has nothing in the world to do with happiness. And it is still more pitiful to see mothers and fathers getting no pleasure out of their children. Worrying because they are tied down at home with babies, or because little Johnny is noisy, or the money has to be spent on having little Mary’s teeth fixed instead of on golf sticks or a new frock.

And lots of foolish people put off being happy to some future time. They are going to be happy when they get rich. They are going to travel when they are old. The husbands and wives are going to enjoy each other after the children are grown up. But you can’t postpone being happy. You’ve got to get the pleasure out of a thing now or never. And so those who have denied themselves every joy for the great splurge they intend to have when they are old find out that they have waited too long. They have lost their capacity for enjoyment.

Source: Dix, Dorothy. How to Win and Hold a Husband. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939.
~ pp. 254-55 ~

The Write Stuff

Monday, August 30th, 2010

give thoughtful considerationQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I have a girlfriend who lives in another country, but she hasn’t written me like she said she would. What should I do?


A Dear John:

Uh, oh. Her actions do not appear to be a good sign, according to the following advice from Warren D. Bowman’s Home Builders of Tomorrow. Although this section appears to be written for girls, I think it could come in handy for just about everyone, particularly in this age of hurried email messages. If only your girlfriend would listen to our dear friend Mr. Bowman!

1938: Courtesy in Correspondence

There is also a type of courtesy that should be manifested in correspondence. A young lady became disgusted during her correpondence with a young man. She said that he never gave any consideration to her letter when replying and ignored ideas she had expressed and questions she had asked. This young man had never learned the courtesy of correspondence, which demands a mutual exchange of ideas and full consideration of any point mentioned by the other in the last letter. Correspondence can be used as a means of testing the courtesy, thinking, modes of expression, sportsmanship, and often the philosophy of life of the other. Can he write an interesting letter? Does he express his ideas in a pleasing manner? The kind of letter a person writes may serve somewhat as a test of his intelligence and resourcefulness. It is wise to refrain from writing letters that are too sentimental, as they may embarrass one later in life. Young people could well afford to give thoughtful consideration to their correspondence when part of their courtship is carried on this way.

Source: Bowman, Warren D. Home Builders of Tomorrow. Elgin, Ill.: The Elgin Press, 1938.
~ pp. 60-61 ~